If COVID-19 hasn’t already caused enough pain for Canadian musicians, they could soon face another major setback: massive fee hikes to apply for the visas they need to tour in the United States.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has proposed increasing the application filing fees for the “P” and “O” visas that artists typically require to tour stateside from $460 to $1015 in the case of the “P” visa and $1055 in the case of the more flexible “O.”
What’s more, it’s proposed adding a $600 Asylum Program Fee to work permit applications, bringing the total cost to $1655 and $1615 respectively.
It’s part of a suite of fee increases that are designed to put the department, which gets 96 per cent of its funding from such revenue, back in the black, according to information posted on a government website.
The American Federation of Musicians has spoken out about the proposed changes, and Canadians did their best to sound the alarm during the recent Folk Alliance International conference in Kansas City, MO. But ultimately, it will fall to American performing arts advocates to fight the changes.
Canadians have no say.
Americans have until March 6 to make their concerns known.
“I’m planning to send the Local 1,000 links to my family and to presenters that we have worked with in the U.S. in the past,” said singer-songwriter Eve Goldberg.
Eve has U.S. citizenship, so she’s never had to worry about visas for her solo tours, but she was just about to leave for her first American tour with her Gathering Sparks bandmate, Jane Lewis, when the pandemic hit.
They lost the fee they paid for Jane’s visa and held off touring when the border reopened out of fear there could be further cancelations and thus, more losses.
If the new fees go through, she’s not sure they’ll ever tour the U.S., she said.
“It’s already really tough to make it work without the increase, so I honestly don’t know how we could make it work unless we suddenly hit into much higher profile, higher paying gigs. And we were not at that point yet.”
Mark Watson, who manages high-profile globetrotting acts like David Francey and Madison Violet said he’s not prepared to give up on the U.S. completely because it’s just too big a market.
But he said, if the changes go through, it won’t be business as usual either.
“It’s definitely going to go into the budget every time we plan. If it doesn’t make sense, then we don’t go,” he said. “Maybe … it has to be for longer to make it make sense. Or maybe we skip a year and just do it every other year. Things like that. We’re certainly not going to be looking at shorter runs there because it’s not worth it.”
Mark hasn’t dug into the messaging being delivered to the U.S. from concerned parties yet, but he said he hopes it doesn’t amount to “Canadians won’t be able to come there and tour.”
“I think that’ll play right into the government policies of America first,” he said. “Great. We don’t want you here.
“What we have to get through to the Americans is that we’re bringing tax money. We’re bringing, you know, artists. They’re spending money on hotels, flights, restaurants.”
Mark doesn’t want to make life hard for any Canadian festivals, he said, but if the U.S. goes through with the plan he believes Canada needs to reciprocate by making it equally difficult for Americans to tour Canada.